On the Runway: Neon Makes a Point at the U.S. Open

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On the Runway: Neon Makes a Point at the U.S. Open

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

Blame it on its proximity to New York Fashion Week, which officially starts on Thursday (unofficially, it starts on Wednesday), but the U.S. Open (which started last week) has always attracted a disproportionate amount of style scrutiny. It tends to focus on ways in which tennis imitates fashion, with players calling center court their “runway,” discussing their “evening dress” and acknowledging their awareness of trends. But for anyone who spent the holiday weekend watching the tournament at Arthur Ashe Stadium, there’s been a lesson in fashion to take away from the tennis — especially when it comes to the athleisure end.

Put simply: There is danger in too much neon.

It has been a slow creep over the last few tournaments, with fluorescent shades popping up at the Australian Open, receding slightly for the French Open and disappearing entirely in the sea of Wimbledon white. You can understand it: Neon has always had a certain attraction for the extreme sports world, and bringing it to establishment events gives them a veneer of cool. Plus, it’s got a New York edge (“They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway,” and all that). And it means you can see the player, pretty much wherever he or she is, even in a giant stadium.

But with Nike’s decision to turn many of its athletes at this Open into what is effectively a 1980s-inspired rainbow of human highlighters in eye-popping yellow, black, green and pink, there’s no closing your eyes to the problem.

I am not talking here about the easy mockery, which has prompted people on social media to compare players to “tennis balls,” “safety” signs and “the 2008 Radiohead light show.”

I am talking about the fact that all this neon is such a big statement that it overshadows the actual person inside the clothes. Suddenly, instead of looking like individual players with specific and carefully honed individual styles, they look like anonymous bodies in very bright clothes. They look the same.

Twitter has taken note.

and more like that.

The neon is such a strong statement that it has even overshadowed the Adidas multicolor stained-glass prints, an evolution of the “dazzle camouflage” pattern its athletes wore at the French Open. Not to mention pretty much every other outfit on the court.

Maybe that was the point. And the neon may work well for Nike (you can’t forget it, anyway). But it emphasizes the brand over the player.

And as the tournament reaches the quarterfinals, it is increasingly clear that the net (no pun intended) result has been to make the few athletes who are the exceptions to the rule stand out even more than they might have otherwise. Suddenly, Andy Murray, with his stubborn adherence to Under Armour minimalism in all black, white and gray, looks like an example of striking serenity — a word not often associated with his name.

And then there’s Serena Williams, who, along with her sister Venus, has made something of a habit of upending tennis sartorial tradition. Though she is also part of the Nike stable, she has her own line with the brand, and this tournament, she seems to be channeling Audrey Hepburn in a little black (or white) dress, complete with cap sleeves, high neck and flashes of pink between the pleats.

Also, of course, “Wonder Woman” sleeves. They’re an accessory, however, which is the point. Neon used sparingly is most effective as a — well, highlighter. In dress as in school.

(Which, coincidentally, also begins this week in New York.)

Something to consider, anyway, as we sit by the catwalks in the coming days.

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